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Snowstorm leaves thousands stranded on Ky. interstate

Last Updated Jan 23, 2016 10:10 AM EST

Motorists were stranded along Interstate 75 south of Lexington, Kentucky, early Saturday as a mammoth winter storm made travel treacherous on the East Coast.

CBS Lexington affiliate WKYT-TV reports 3,000 people spent Friday night stranded in their cars.

The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management told CBS News that cars were stuck along a 30-mile stretch of I-75.

Snow started falling Friday, but the worst was still yet to come for the East, with strong winds and heavy snow expected to produce "life-threatening blizzard conditions" throughout Saturday, according to the National Weather Service's website. Forecasters also predicted up to a half-inch of ice accumulation in the Carolinas, and potentially serious coastal flooding in the mid-Atlantic.

The stretch of I-75 was closed overnight, but reopened early Saturday morning, with traffic moving slowly, said Buddy Rogers, spokesman for Kentucky Emergency Management. Crews had been making wellness checks; passing out snacks, fuel and water; and trying to move cars one by one. Some had been stranded since Friday afternoon, and emergency shelters had opened.

Photos from local media outlets showed a long line of trucks and other vehicles lined up along the snowy road. Among them was WKYT reporter Caitlin Centner, who told her station in a segment aired from her news van that it was a crazy experience, with wind and snow building as drivers turn off cars to save gas.

"Every time it looks like there's light at the end of the tunnel, more accidents and slide-offs are occurring," she said.

Centner interviewed Rebekah Sams, who was stranded making her way to a volleyball tournament. Sams described snow blowing amid a complete standstill and said, "You never imagine yourself being out here for five hours during a snowstorm."

According to the National Weather Service's website early Saturday, 18 inches of snow already had fallen on Ulysses in eastern Kentucky, while 16 inches fell in Beattyville. Between 14 inches to 15.5 inches had fallen in at other locations across Kentucky, including Frenchburg, Mount Vernon, Eglon and Lancer.

The weather service said 7 inches of snow had fallen in Washington, D.C. while snowfall amounts in nearby Maryland ranged between 4.5 inches in Baltimore and 13.5 inches in Oakland. In Virginia, Reagan National Airport reported 6.8 inches of snow and Elma had 15 inches.

Other states that recorded snowfall amounts greater than 6 inches included Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Various locations in Georgia and Alabama received between 1 and 3.5 inches of snow.